Atskuri – the ruins of a thousand-year-old fortress. Georgia

Atskuri fortress is a silent witness of ancient history. Georgia

Atskuri. Georgia

The mountaineers are hot-tempered people who like to fight. That’s why Caucasus is famous for its big (and not so big) fortresses. At different times in all parts of the Caucasus mountains were built a lot of fortifications.

Now, of course, such defensive constructions have lost their relevance. And wars are fought differently, and weapons are much more powerful and destructive. Now we are, as a rule, only silent witnesses of thousands of years of history in the form of ruins.

Georgia, as a typical representative of the Caucasus, also has the remains of ancient fortresses. We will tell you about one of them. This fortress Atskuri (or rather what is left of it).

Ruins of the Atskuri fortress

It is constructed near the south entrance of Borjomi gorge, and it majestically rises on the rock over the river Kura.

The Fortress of Atskuri on the map

  • Geographical coordinates 41.728374, 43.165822
  • The distance from the Georgian capital Tbilisi is about 140 km
  • Distance to the nearest airport in Kutaisi David Agmashenebeli about 75 km

History of Atskuri

Originally in the vicinity of the fortress was a large settlement of the same name at the time. Many houses surrounded the fortress, which over the centuries has seen the Persians and the Turks and Russians. Periodically, then one or the other seized it and defended (well, people do not want to live peacefully).

It is difficult to calculate the age of the Atskuri fortress, but archeologists suppose that about 3700 years ago in the Bronze Age people already settled down here. The first fortifications began to be built around the 9th century. But because of the numerous military conflicts, the fortress was constantly destroyed and rebuilt. Its original appearance is unknown. There are only fragments of a mid-17th century text which mentions the fortress as follows:

“it was called ‘Alexander’s Gap.’ It was the first fortress in Gurjistan, and was built by Alexander the Great himself. This is evidenced by the size of the fortress, its quadrangular shape and the granite stones of its foundation and walls. The fortress has a gate facing south. The garrison of the fortress was 200 soldiers. There is a bathhouse, an inn, a mosque and about 40-50 shops. There are many beautiful gardens and vineyards around.

The ruins of the Atskuri fortress

Icon of Our Lady of Atzkur

There are historical evidences that Andrey the First Called visited Atskuri. There are interesting events connected with it. As we know, Andrew the First Called preached Christianity and brought here the icon, now known as the Icon of the Mother of God of Atskuri.

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It was believed that she protected the fortress from raids. A small chapel was built for her. But fearing the capture of the Persians, the icons were taken outside the fortress, and after a while the entire settlement of Atskuri was captured. The Persian commander ordered the icon to be burned. But the icon thrown into the fire did not burn, and those Persians who saw the miracle with their own eyes were so amazed that they immediately converted to Christianity. The icon is still intact and is on display at the Tbilisi Museum of Art.

Icon of the Mother of God of Atskuri

Atskuri in Russian history

Since 1802 the fortress passed into the hands of the Russian Empire, and just 30 km from it lay the Russian-Turkish border. The fact that Prince Waldobolski took the fortress of Atskuri without firing a single shot is remarkable. Prince Mamuka Orbeliani of the Georgian militia helped him in this by simply persuading the garrison of the fortress to surrender and avoid senseless bloodshed.

After a few decades the functions of the fortress came to naught, and it ceased to play an important role in the defense of the state borders. At the end of the 19th century only ruins remained of it.

The Remains of Atskuri Fortress

Atskuri fortress in tourism

Entrance to the territory of the fortress is free, and we should say that there are few tourists here. But if you’re an antiquity lover, then you should come here, if only to literally touch the ancient history. Despite the fact that the fortress has long been turned into ruins, it does not lose its attractiveness. Here you can still feel the former might of the citadel and feel its formidable spirit. Especially mesmerizing looks fortress in the rays of the setting sun.

The fortress itself is perfectly visible from the road Borjomi-Akhaltsikhe. On a clear sunny day from the top of the fortress one can enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The mountains Lomi and Oshora, which are from 2100 to 2600 meters high, and the canyons of the Borjomi National Park look very beautiful.

You can get to the Atskuri fortress through a special tunnel, which used to serve for water supply. You can use the services of a professional guide or make a hike on your own. But with a guide will be more convenient and interesting. Believe me, he knows more than you and us put together.

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Atskuri fortress

Atskuri is a fortress for controlling the southern entrance to Borjomi gorge. It is erected on a rock which rises above the right bank of the river Kura. In the first centuries A.D. a small fortified town was formed on this place. In the 9th century there was something resembling a fortress. The remains of the fortress walls, which survived to this day were built in the 14th-17th centuries.

Church of Atzkur.

Cross-domed church with three apses projecting to the east was built in the X-XI centuries. The church stands at the foot of a small hill on the right bank of the river Kura. Two cultural layers are distinguished, testifying to the different stages of construction works on its territory: one of them dates back to the X-XI centuries, and the other – to the XIII-XIV centuries. The latter is the result of extensive reconstruction after the great earthquake of 1283. Atskuri was one of the most important Christian centers in medieval Georgia, the residence of the bishop, the chief prelate in the province of Samtskhe, and the place where the revered icon of the Virgin Hodegetria was kept. The icon, according to medieval Georgian chronicles, was supposedly brought here by St. Andrew. Now only dilapidated walls are left of what was once one of the largest cathedrals in Georgia. A complete restoration project was launched in 2016. The church is listed as an immovable cultural monument of national importance in Georgia.

Slesa Fortress

To the south of the Atskuri fortress, on a rocky hill about halfway between the villages of Kvabiskhevi and Atskuri, on the left bank of the river Kura there is a fortress whose history is obscure. The history of the castle is unknown. Architecturally, the structure is an irregular rectangle, elongated along the south-north axis and rounded at the southwestern end. Certain features, including the absence of embrasures for firearms, suggest that Slesa might have been built in the High Middle Ages. A Georgian document dated 1516, listing the noble families of Samtskhe, mentions “the Locksmiths” (literally “of Slesa”). At the moment the castle is badly damaged: its upper walls are destroyed, window and doorways are destroyed, and its internal structures lie in ruins. The towers, strategically located on the two neighbouring hills, are more or less intact.

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The Monastery of Saint Nina at Poka (Foka)

This small monastery was erected during the reign of Bagrat IV Kuropalat (1027-1072). It stands on the southern outskirts of Lake Paravani, at the highest point of the village Poka (Foka), not far from the shore of the lake. Legend has it that St. Nina, the Christian educator of Georgia, came from Armenia to this place. She spent some time on the shore of the lake. Here in her dream she had a wonderful vision: the Son of God Jesus Christ appeared, gave her a sealed letter and ordered Nina to go to the ancient capital of Georgia – Mtskheta, to the king Mirian III. Since then this place has become highly revered as the first stop of the saint on her way to Mtskheta. In the 16th century after the conquest of Georgia by the Turks, the local population converted to Islam, and worship in the temple stopped for almost 200 years. At the beginning of 19th century after the annexation of Georgia to Russia these places became deserted – the local Muslim population left for the Ottoman Empire. The Russian authorities settled Armenians in the vacant lands. Thus for a while the temple became Armenian. In the early 2000s the church, of which little remains, was restored.

The Beti Church in the name of the Mother of God

The church of Beeti is located on the territory of the abandoned village of the same name in the Tsinaubani gorge, about 2 km north of the present-day village of Gurkeli in the Akhaltsikhe municipality. Judging by the style, the church may have been built at the end of the 14th century. It is a cross-dome church with a centrally located large dome and a semicircular apse with a deep vista. The church is divided into three naves. The arches supporting the dome with a tent cover are based on polygonal columns made of hewn stones. The dome is quite high, has 12 windows, of which six are false; from the outside it is decorated with carved convexes above each window and images of anchors and circles between the windows. The structure itself is rectangular and the inside is cross-shaped.

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Zarzma Monastery of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Medieval orthodox monastery located in the village of Zarzma in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, in south-western Georgia. The earliest church on the site was probably built in the eighth century by the monk Serapion of Zarmza and was presumably destroyed by an earthquake in the thirteenth century. The structure that you can see today dates from the beginning of the 14th century and was built during the reign of Beki Mandaturtuhutsesi. All that remains of the original monastery is a Georgian inscription from the end of X century, inserted in the entrance arch of the chapel. In 1544 the new patrons of the monastery, the family of the princes of Khurtsidze, restored it. The facades of the church were richly decorated, and the interior was painted with frescoes. In addition to religious motifs, there was a series of portraits of historical figures of the 16th century. After the Ottoman conquest of the area, the monastery was abandoned and was in a deplorable condition. In 1921 a tourist base was housed in the monastery, and since 1938 a museum was opened. In 1989 the Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II consecrated the main church, and in 1999 the monastery was reestablished.

Abuli Fortress

The Abuli fortress, also known as Korogli, is a Bronze Age megalithic structure built using dry masonry techniques. It is located on the southern slope of Patara Abuli Mountain, at an altitude of 2670 meters above sea level, in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, southeast of Lake Paravani. The Abuli fortress is a large and complex structure built of 3-5-meter high volcanic basalt blocks without mortar. It consists of a central fortified area which includes a “citadel” of 60 by 40 meters. The central area could be accessed through two entrances from the south and east. Dwellings or shelters of various sizes and shapes, sometimes built in two or three levels, form the “residential area” to the east of the “citadel”

Timotesubani Temple

The official name of this temple is the Temple of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. It is located 18 kilometers from the town of Borjomi, on the right bank of the river Gujarula. It was built on the ruins of an older monastery by the owner of these places, the national hero of Georgia Shalva Akhaltsikheli Beginning construction dates back to 1195 and completed in 1215. The entrance to the territory of the temple is an arched oblong structure, built of red brick. The central temple was consecrated in the name of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and is one of the most important monuments of the Georgian cultural heritage. It is made of light pink, the so-called “Georgian” brick. The height of the temple is 28 meters, width – 19, length – 11 meters. The windows in the north wall were built and painted during the construction. The diameter of the dome of the temple is lined with azure ceramic details. The temple was painted in 1205-1215 and this painting is one of the most complex for its era. Most of the frescoes have survived to this day.

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Hospio Church

I could not find information about the church on the photo below on the Internet, although there is a page on Wikipedia in the Georgian language with a pretty detailed information about the church in Hospio, but it is a completely different church. The fact is that the river divides the village into two parts and that at the beginning of the 20th century, there were Armenians living on the right bank and Muslim Georgians (Sunnis) on the left, and one ancient Georgian church was located in both parts of the village. The church on the Armenian side has been preserved up to now and is mentioned in Wikipedia. The church on the photo was on the Muslim side and apparently was destroyed or dismantled for household needs.

Shaori fortress

The fortress of Shaori, earlier known as Kerogly, is situated 20-23 km from the above-mentioned Abuli fortress and has many topographic and architectural similarities. Shaori is built at the height of 2752 meters from large basalt blocks, without the use of mortar. It consists of two parts, each located on top of a steep peak. The central part is an irregular rectangle in plan and was built in the highest area. It could be entered through the eastern gate which was 1 meter wide and 1.3 meters high. The location and spatial organization of the Shaori fortress makes it unlikely that it was used as a center of urban life. Allegedly it could have served religious purposes, too.

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